The Washington Post had an article over the weekend concerning bills advancing through the Iowa and Minnesota legislatures. The subject? Rolling back child labor laws to allow children as young as 14 to work in industrial meatpacking plants and 16 year olds to work in construction.
This is supposedly being suggested to address labor shortages, but is it really? Adults need income levels that allow them to survive and maybe even include benefits enabling workers to care for their families. Businesses know they can hire younger people for less money and without offering benefits.
If you have followed my blog for a while, you know I grew up in the country. As kids, we all helped out. We did not get paid when we picked beans or strawberries or shucked corn or helped string beans. It was the survival of the family and it took all of us to get it done. Even my husband talks about working in the peach sheds when he was growing up. But none of these jobs were in industrial environments or large scale construction and they did not interfere with school.
I remember discovering my husband’s grandmother worked in the cotton mills when she was 12 and perhaps younger. They liked employing children because they could easily climb over and under the dangerous machinery when threads broke or to clean up dust and thread on the floors.
There are certainly socio-economic concerns here. Who will take these jobs and the risks associated with them? As it is now, children in the middle to upper middle classes might work for spending money, but it is doubtful they will be working in an industrial meat packing plant.
The clincher in the article for me was the fact (at least in Iowa) that the employers will be protected from liability in the case of injury or death of these children. To me, this says everything about who is going to benefit should these changes be made into law.
Stepping off my Monday soapbox…